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Norfolk artist swaps paintbrushes for strings in new career as a custom guitar maker

PUBLISHED: 18:00 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 19:28 11 October 2018

Artist George Debenham, who has carved a new career building custom made electric guitars.
Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Artist George Debenham, who has carved a new career building custom made electric guitars. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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A successful north Norfolk landscape painter has abandoned art for music, and forged a new career building precision-made electric guitars.

Artist George Debenham, who has carved a new career building custom made electric guitars.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLArtist George Debenham, who has carved a new career building custom made electric guitars. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

George Debenham, who ran Theo’s Gallery, in Church Street, Cromer, with his partner Margie for 20 years, began painting after retiring following a 25-year career as an engineer.

He soon built up an enthusiastic following, with collectors travelling from as far afield as Scotland and London to see new work, and paintings fetching up to £4,000 each.

Custom made electric guitars built by north Norfolk artist George Debenham.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLCustom made electric guitars built by north Norfolk artist George Debenham. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

However, after selling the gallery and moving to Aylmerton five years ago, Mr Debenham, 71, found himself disillusioned with painting and, after buying and refurbishing a couple of vintage electric guitars, decided to set himself the challenge of building an instrument from scratch.

“When we moved, I converted the garage to a studio, but I wasn’t getting the enjoyment or inspiration from painting anymore,” he explained. “I believe that if you are not feeling that passion, then a painting just doesn’t work, and I think I had just fallen out of love with it.”

Artist George Debenham in his workshop at Aylmerton, near Cromer.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLArtist George Debenham in his workshop at Aylmerton, near Cromer. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Having helped his master carpenter father build acoustic guitars as a teenager in the 1960s, Mr Debenham had a head start, but is almost completely self-taught.

Using his own designs based on classic Telecaster guitars and using top-of-the-range hardware made by Cornish company Bare Knuckle Pickups, he builds instruments to order from hardwoods including maple, American ash and alder, adding his own, distinctive finishing touches.

“It’s about having something tailored to exactly what the customer wants, from the right tuners, to a specifically shaped neck, and there are lots of different ways of wiring up a guitar to produce different sounds and effects,” he said.

Mr Debenham, who is now working on a prototype for a modern-day version of an early electric guitar under his own Feral Guitars brand, has completed 30 commissions this year - each of which takes 5 weeks to finish - and says he has no intention of returning to painting.

“For me, to build a guitar, plug it in for the first time and hear a really good musician get a fantastic sound out of it is unbeatable, and to get a new career in my seventies is quite a kick,” he said.

To see more of George Debenham’s work, visit the Feral Guitars Facebook page.

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